It was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Thanks to the Aberdeen Roncalli Booster Club, I was able to attend a Notre Dame football game last Saturday night.
While I must admit that I am not a rabid Fighting Irish fan or fully understand the complete history of the program, I do know enough to appreciate that things are a little extra special on this campus in South Bend, Ind.
The atmosphere on game day is a sight to behold. Tailgating started in the morning at least a full eight hours before kickoff. Unlike most college teams who have a solid local fan base, Notre Dame is different.
Fans flock to this community from all over the country to be a part of the most decorated college football program in the sport’s history (the Irish have had more players selected in the National Football League draft than any other school and have more players in the College Football Hall of Fame than any other school). In short, the campus oozes with history everywhere you look.
The stadium that the Irish play in was built in 1930. While there have been modifications through the years, the facility still has that unique feel to it and on a Saturday evening under the lights, I cannot imagine a better setting anywhere to watch a game.
The stadium holds more than 77,000 spectators. According to a game management official, it was once cleared in 17 minutes because of a lightning storm in the area.
While all of the events lead up to the football game, Notre Dame game-day experiences are about so much more than just the gridiron.
There is activity everywhere you go on campus. The atmosphere is electric as fans take in the sights and sounds leading up to kickoff.
Last Saturday game-day festivities featured everything from a group of bag-pipe players to a concert from the school’s glee club. Many of the activities take place in front of the school’s library that features the iconic picture of Jesus holding up His hands in what has come to be known as Touchdown Jesus.
One of the events that drew the attention of thousands of fans was the parade of players. (Even fans from the visiting opponent North Carolina Tar Heels stood around watching the festivities).
Before each home game, Notre Dame players walk through campus on the way to the stadium. Naturally, the route is lined with adoring Irish fans waiting to catch an up-close glimpse of the squad and shout their support of the team.
The players are joined on the route by the marching band, which features approximately 400 members, including 30 tuba players. Again, when you’re Notre Dame it’s not just any marching band. It’s billed as the oldest collegiate band in U.S. history dating back to 1845. And when it plays the school song, it’s not just any fight song. It’s the Notre Dame Victory March, the most well-known school song in sports history.
I’ve been at bigger and newer venues for sporting events, but it’s hard to replicate the feel and loyalty that is associated with Notre Dame Stadium. The facility almost seems like a shrine and for good reason when you consider some of the legendary greats connected to the program, names like Knute Rockne, Paul Hornung, Alan Page, Joe Montana and Tim Brown just to name a few. I cannot imagine how special it must be for those die-hard Irish fans to attend a game at that stadium.
This trip was Roncalli’s first attempt at taking a busload of fans to South Bend, but there is talk of it becoming an annual tradition to help raise funds for the booster club. To be sure, it is a memorable experience.
While I suspect that game days are a fabric of every major college in the fall, I have a hard time believing they can match the unique environment of the Fighting Irish and I know for a fact they can’t come close to equaling the rich history and accomplishments of Notre Dame football.
As they say in South Bend: GO IRISH.
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